Shirley Jackson Award nominee Laura Mauro talks to Kendall Reviews.

Mild-mannered laboratory technician by day, Laura Mauro was born in south east London and currently lives in Essex. Her work has appeared in Black Static, Interzone, Shadows & Tall Trees and a variety of anthologies. Her debut novella ‘Naming the Bones’ was published in 2017. In her spare time, she collects tattoos, dyes her hair strange colours, and blogs sporadically at www.lauramauro.com

KR: Coffee?

KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

I’ve been writing horror and weird fiction since around 2012. I was born and raised in south London, but have since moved to Essex under extreme duress. I collect cats and tattoos, and am trying my best to learn Japanese. My debut novella ‘Naming the Bones’ was published last year by Dark Minds Press, and my short story ‘Sun Dogs’ (originally published in Shadows and Tall Trees 7) was recently shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson award

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KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

I’m a big pro-wrestling fan and write show reviews for Pro Wrestling Journal. I also play a lot of videogames (though I don’t have the time for it so much these days) and listen to music (mostly rock and metal, though I’m not as snobby as I used to be.) Like most writers, I read a lot – books, obviously, but I’m also partial to articles about weird happenings and strange cryptids, and tend to fall into weird rabbit holes where I read obsessively for an entire day about something obscure, like saturation diving. I’m currently studying towards a Master’s in Modern and Contemporary Literature, which so far has mostly involved pretending to have read and understood James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. There’s a lot of sitting in rooms full of other students, nodding sagely and waiting for the first person to crack and admit it’s complete bollocks. And I try to study Japanese whenever I have spare time – I took evening classes for two years and can just about hold a conversation with a small child.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

I have two. Watership Down by Richard Adams, which was the book that opened my eyes to the full possibilities of what writing can achieve – layers of story and mythology and linguistics carefully woven together to create an epic whilst retaining a strong sense of character. It was the book that made me want to write.

Also, Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson. I think these days we associate Moomins with fluffy cuteness, but Jansson’s books were complex and often quite dark. Moominland Midwinter is really about loneliness, and learning to cope with change, and there are some really wonderful things in there about people who don’t belong, which I identified with a lot, especially as a young teenager.

There’s a particular favourite quote I always try to slide in whenever I talk about this book: There are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring. Everything that’s a little shy and a little rum. Some kinds of night animals and people that don’t fit in with others and that nobody really believes in. They keep out of the way all the year. And then when everything’s quiet and white and the nights are long and most people are asleep – then they appear. – I knew, when I read this, that I wanted to write about the night animals.

KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

My favourite album changes with the tides. Admittedly, these days I tend to cherry pick my favourite songs by particular artists and build playlists comprised of multiple of their albums. So I have a Bowie playlist, a Sigur Ros playlist, a Nine Inch Nails playlist, a Pixies, playlist, an AFI playlist and so on. Music does play a big role in my writing, though I usually pick instrumental music, or songs with foreign language lyrics as I’m often tempted to sing along and I get distracted. For my current work in progress, I’ve found a great post-rock playlist on Spotify. I love the way the internet has made music so much more accessible.

KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?

I’ll probably get cast out of the horror genre for saying this, but I’m not a huge lover of horror films. I’m not massively into films and TV in general. That’s not to say I don’t watch films and TV, because I do! It’s just that I tend to prefer other mediums – books, comics, videogames – over those ones. But when film and TV gets it right, it’s a truly brilliant experience. 28 Days Later remains one of my favourite horror films, and I think Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the best things ever to appear on screen. I’m also a fan of anime, so I really enjoy shows like Psycho-Pass (probably more dystopian sci-fi than horror, though clearly shot through with strong psychological horror influences)

KR: What are you reading now?

I’ve just finished The Hunger by Alma Katsu, which is a fictionalised account of the real-life Donner Party story, but with a supernatural twist. I find the Donner Party story fascinating as it is, so I was intrigued to see whether Katsu’s re-imagining would work. I ended up enjoying it very much.

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I’m now halfway through Silk by Caitlin R. Kiernen, which is solid 90’s horror in the Poppy Z. Brite vein – it’s exactly the book my teenage goth self dreamed of writing, so I’m having a good time with it.

KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

Richard Adams and Tove Jansson, as mentioned earlier – they opened my mind to the possibilities of fiction. Later on, I’d say Angela Carter – reading The Bloody Chamber at university was a total revelation. Where Adams and Jansson made me want to write, reading Carter solidified, in my mind, exactly what I wanted to write, and how. Obviously, I’m not there yet!

I drew a lot of inspiration from the weird fiction writers I read in my early 20’s – Gaiman and Mieville, Kathe Koja, Poppy Z. Brite, Iain Banks.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

I never plot. I’m not against the idea – whatever works for the individual is great. But plotting and outlining kills my enthusiasm and my imagination. I set out with an idea of the beginning and ending, and maybe a couple of waypoints, but I allow myself a tremendous amount of flexibility. If the idea changes, it changes. I like to think that stories are organic things, to a degree.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

It depends on how familiar or unfamiliar I am with a particular subject. For Naming the Bones, I did a lot of research into London tube lines – where they end, where there are extra tunnels unknown to the public. Where the depots are, and where tunnels can be accessed from above ground. I also researched pipe bombs, which is always a delicate process as you don’t want the police knocking on your door.

For Sun Dogs, which is a much shorter piece, I actually ended up doing much more research – it’s set in a location I’ve never been to, and in fact I knew next to nothing about deserts (I grew up in urban London so the closest thing we have to a desert is Camber Sands.) So I did a lot of research into the Mojave desert – watching videos on Youtube to get a sensory feel of the place, reading up about people living off the grid (which led to reading about preppers, which in turn became a significant part of the story.) I do have a bad habit of falling into research holes, though, so I have to be careful to limit the amount of reading I do and ensure I actually get round to the writing.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

I don’t really have one! I work full time, which includes a two hour commute each day, and have various other commitments, including university, so writing is very much a matter of as and when I find the time, and as and when I have the energy. I often write during my lunch break at work, and I try to carve out time on the weekends. If I have a deadline to meet, I’ll make time in the evenings too. It’s probably true that I try to cram too much into too few hours, so avoiding burnout is something I have to work on. (Of course, the dream is to be able to give up the day job, but alas, for now financial security comes first…)

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

This is like being forced to choose a favourite child. Or favourite cat, in my case. I think the story I’m fondest of is Looking for Laika, which was published in Interzone. It marries two of my favourite subjects: nuclear war, and the story of Laika the Soviet space dog. Plus, it’s set in a seaside caravan park, which is where all my best childhood memories reside.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

Yes, for my sins. I know you’re not supposed to, but I’m not entirely sure I believe anyone who says they never do it. I don’t write in a bubble, and I think it’s important to be open to criticism and bad reviews, if only to build a thicker skin. Not everyone is going to like everything you write, and I think very few of us start out equipped to handle that reality. Plus, let’s be honest, a lot of us are gluttons for praise. I’m not going to pretend I’m above that, because I’m not.

KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?

Rejection stings, but keep pushing. Believe in your work and so will others. It takes time to get where you want to be, but it will be worth it. Also: stretch your back. Right now. Go on. You’ll thank me for it.

KR: What scares you?

I suffer with anxiety and OCD, so the answer is: everything.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

All of the above. Feed me more books, please, any format is fine. (Although I do like the aesthetic of overflowing bookshelves.)

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

I’ve written a short story for the recently released collection New Fears 2, which is being released at Fantasycon later this year. It’s called ‘Letters from Elodie’: it’s about the apparent suicide of a strangely charismatic woman named Elodie, and a woman named Ruth, infatuated with Elodie, who seeks to decode the mystery of her death.

KR: What are you working on now?

I don’t have a lot of time to write right now (sob) but I’m slowly hacking away at what I hope will be a novella, set in a future where semi-sentient war machines have driven humanity into tiny enclaves. I’m a bit superstitious about works in progress, so I’ll leave it at that!

KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

I love this question.

You can choose…

  1. One fictional character from your writing.

Casey, from Naming the Bones. Perhaps not the most morally wholesome of characters, but she’s good conversation, and resourceful – she’s a determined survivor, so she’d be handy on a desert island.

  1. One fictional character from any other book.

Too-Ticky, from Moominland Midwinter. She’s wise, and a calming influence, and she’d teach me how to cope with the challenges of desert island life. She can fish, too.

  1. One real life person that is not a family member or friend.

Hiroshi Tanahashi. He’s very handsome. I’m just saying.

KR: Thank you very much Laura.

To find out more about Laura please visit her official website www.lauramauro.com

You can follow Laura on Twitter @LauraNMauro

Please visit Laura’s author page here

First there was darkness… Alessa Spiteri survives a bombing incident on the London Underground only to discover that the horror she experienced there is only the beginning of the nightmare. As she struggles to rebuild her life, she finds herself haunted by grotesque, shadow creatures – monsters Alessa believes are hallucinations, born of her traumatised mind until she meets Casey, also the survivor of an Underground bombing, who tells her she can see the monsters too. Together, the women plan their fightback against the creatures, a course of action which takes Alessa back into the tunnels beneath the city. Back into the darkness.

You can buy Naming The Bones from Amazon UK & Amazon US

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